Has DuPage County turned purple?
Local Democrats are declaring that the Republican Party's grip on DuPage has been broken now that most voters for a second time supported Barack Obama over a GOP opponent. And this time, some well-known and seemingly entrenched Republicans lost their re-election bids, including Congresswoman Judy Biggert and state Sen. Carole Pankau.
“DuPage is no longer red,” said Jeremy Custer, who managed Democrat Tom Cullerton's successful campaign to unseat Pankau. “It's purple because by no stretch of the imagination is it blue.”
Republican leaders scoff at that observation.
“DuPage County still is a solidly Republican county,” said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, who retained his 24th District seat by defeating Democratic challenger A. Ghani of Oak Brook with nearly 66 percent of the vote.
Still, Dillard and others acknowledge that the voter makeup in DuPage is different from what it was just a decade ago.
“In the old days, there was a large portion of DuPage that voted straight Republican,” County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said. “Now you are not going to get a pass just because you are a Republican candidate. You have to earn it.”
Amy Rohrer, the executive director of the DuPage Democratic Party, says she believes Republicans are going to have a tougher time because older, more conservative voters are being replaced in the electorate by young people who have more progressive views.
Rohrer said Democrats also are reaching out to the county's nonwhite population. Because of a growing number of Asians and Hispanics in DuPage, more than a quarter of the county's population regularly speaks a language other than English at home, statistics show.
“I think we have a better bottom-up organization than we've ever had,” Rohrer said. “We also have a better top-down organization than we've ever had.”
Bob Grogan, vice chairman of the Downers Grove Township Republican Organization, acknowledges local Republicans must do a better job reaching out to Asians and Hispanics.
“Any good organization will market to the population it has,” Grogan said, “and those are two growing, vibrant communities that we need to do a better job marketing to.”
But Dillard said the local party won't succeed with its outreach until the national GOP gets an immigration reform bill passed.
In fact, Dillard said he believes the national party's stance on immigration — Romney mentioning “self-deportation,” for example — contributed to “a perfect storm” that caused Republican losses, Dillard said.
“The DuPage Republicans were hurt by the lack of a real campaign by Mitt Romney in Illinois,” he said, “and national blunders on immigration reform by the national party.”
Then there was Illinois' new legislative map.
The map, created by Democratic state lawmakers and approved Gov. Pat Quinn, was redrawn because of the new census. But as soon as Republican leaders saw it, they complained that the new map contained districts designed solely to allow Democrats to win and grab parts of DuPage and Will counties.
North Central College political science professor Stephen Maynard Caliendo said the remap played a role in Biggert's loss to Bill Foster.
At the very least, getting a redrawn district made Biggert appear more vulnerable, which inspired the national Democratic Party to spend more money on the race, Caliendo said.
“The race ended up being targeted,” he said, “which might have altered the way that even DuPage County residents voted in the race.”
The fact that Barack Obama was on top of the ballot also didn't help GOP candidates in DuPage.
“The coattails were not going to be strong for Mitt Romney,” Caliendo said. “He wasn't that attractive of a candidate for the Republicans.”
However, Rohrer says Obama's coattails weren't large enough to explain why Shannon Burns became the first Democrat elected to the DuPage County Forest Preserve since the commission split from the county board or why Democrats have three seats on the DuPage County Board.
“We ran some very good campaigns,” Rohrer said. “We looked at the numbers, so we knew where to run people. We're getting more savvy about where we spend our time and money.”
Bob Peickert, DuPage Democratic Party chairman, said he came away from the presidential election feeling that his party had turned a corner.
Democrats always have been plentiful in DuPage, he said, but some carried a defeatist attitude about overcoming the GOP stranglehold, and didn't turn out at the polls. That's changing now, in part because the local party has become more active and aggressive in trying to get its message out.
Local Democrats also are getting more outside help.
“State and national Democrats have recognized that DuPage is an area that has a lot of Democratic votes,” Peickert said. “So they've invested time and money into getting Democrats elected.”
Caliendo said the true test of whether Democrats have made lasting inroads in DuPage will come when Barack Obama isn't on the ballot anymore.
“We might be in a little bit of an anomalous situation because we have sort of a favored son from 30 miles down the road,” Caliendo said.
Democrats like Rohrer say they are looking forward to having a different kind of a midterm race in 2014 than DuPage has had in the past. “They (Republicans) don't own the whole chessboard anymore,” she said. “And they have to stop acting like they do.”
But Republicans point out that politics is like a pendulum: It swings back and forth.
“It's 2012, and 2014 is around the corner,” Cronin said. “It will be a new day and a new set of issues. Republicans, I expect, will do better.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.